Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Options for the 49ers if LT Trent Williams leaves in free agency

Brian Renick
Mar 5, 2021 at 2:55 PM0

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The worst-case scenario for the 49ers this offseason would be seeing All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams leave in free agency. Last offseason, the team sent a 3rd-round pick to the Washington Football Team to acquire Williams, and then restructured his deal to give him a small pay bump and included language in the contract that stated they would not use the franchise tag on him in 2021.

Looking at the pending free agents at the tackle position, it's easy to see that Trent Williams is far-and-away the best player available. Williams has stated that he would like to return to the 49ers, which is good news, but he also wants to test the market to determine his value, which could be bad news. There are enough teams flush with cap space, even with a cap-tightened season, and a need at the tackle position, that there will definitely be competition for his services. The likelihood that Willams becomes the highest-paid tackle in the league seems inevitable, and with the 49ers lacking significant cap space, it's not difficult to imagine Williams leaving San Francisco.

With this worst-case scenario in mind, it would be smart to look at the options the team would have to replace Williams.

In House Options

Justin Skule
6-6, 318 lbs., 24 years old, Exp. 2 years
Skule was drafted by the 49ers out of Vanderbilt University in the 6th round (183rd overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft. Skule has seen game action in both seasons with the team, including twelve starts (with two of those starts at right guard in Weeks 15 and 16 of the 2020 season).

The problem with Skule is that in those starts, he has been downright terrible. In 2019, he earned a Pro Football Focus (PFF) pass-blocking grade of 45.1 and in 2020, that grade declined to 30.5. For comparison, Mike McGlinchey, the 49ers' starting right tackle who was often criticized in the media for his pass blocking in 2020, had a PFF grade of 58.3 for the season. Skule's most abysmal performance came at left tackle in the 2020 Week 9 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, during which he allowed six pressures, leading to one sack, two quarterback hits, and three hurries.

Daniel Brunskill
6-5, 300 lbs., 27 years old, Exp. 2 years
Brunskill signed with the 49ers in the 2019 offseason after playing a season in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football league. He won a spot on the roster as a versatile backup who could play any position along the line.

In 2020, Brunskill earned a starting spot on the offensive line at right guard, and then shifted over to center once injuries depleted the depth there. In 2019, Brunskill played 475 snaps, with 85 coming at left tackle and 281 at right tackle. In those 366 snaps at the tackle position, Brunskill only allowed five pressures and one sack. Based on his play at tackle in 2019, as well as the 120 snaps he played at right guard that season, along with his play along the interior offensive line in 2020, Brunskill is better suited, and plays significantly better, at the tackle position.

Shon Coleman
6-5, 310 lbs., 29 years old, Exp. 2 years
Shon Coleman is a bit of an enigma. He was drafted out of Auburn University by the Cleveland Browns in the 3rd round (76th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. In 2017, Coleman won the starting right tackle job and played every game that season. He earned a PFF pass-blocking grade of 64.0 that season and allowed 64 pressures, which led to six sacks, nine quarterback hits, and forty-nine hurries. He was also flagged fourteen times for penalties.

Coleman was traded by the Browns to the 49ers after the 2017 season, and hasn't seen the field since. In 2018, he was inactive for all sixteen games. In 2019, Coleman suffered a right ankle injury in camp and was placed on Injured Reserve, and in 2020, Coleman opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns stemming from his diagnosis and recovery from leukemia in 2010. It is very difficult to consider Coleman a candidate to take over at LT without any game experience since 2017.

Free Agent Options

Alejandro Villanueva
6-9, 320 lbs., 32 years old, Exp. 6 years
Villanueva has been the starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers since Week 7 of the 2015 season. He was an undrafted free agent out of Army and has not missed a game since he took over the position during the 2015 season.

Villanueva is not an athletic superstar like Trent Williams, but he is a dependable blocker, especially in the passing game, earning PFF pass-blocking grades in the seventies and eighties every season of his career. Villanueva does not earn such high grades with his run blocking, which could turn off head coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers' front office, but he is a capable run blocker (PFF run-blocking grades in the sixties) which should be enough to bring him in if Williams leaves.

Taylor Moton
6-5, 325 lbs., 26 years old, Exp. 4 years
Moton has been the starting right tackle for the Carolina Panthers for the past three seasons. He was drafted out of Western Michigan by the Panthers in the 2nd round (64th overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft. He is a strong candidate for the franchise tag, but as of this writing, the Panthers have not extended or tagged him.

If the 49ers were to bring in Moton, he would have to switch positions because Mike McGlinchey's pass blocking is not good enough to move to left tackle. Moton has earned PFF pass-blocking grades in the seventies and eighties during the past three seasons and has combined that with run blocking grades of 67.4 in 2019 and 76.3 in 2020. Moton is an incredible athlete as well, especially for his size, running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine, so his fit in Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone running scheme is perfect.

Cam Robinson
6-6, 320 lbs., 25 years old, Exp. 4 years
Robinson has been the starting left tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars since being drafted out of Florida State in the 2nd round (34th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft. Like Moton, he is a candidate for the franchise tag, and with the Jaguars having the most cap space in the league ($74 million), they could easily afford to tag him. They could also be a team that throws out an obscene amount of money to bring in Trent Williams.

Robinson is not an elite left tackle, but he has been a solid contributor for the Jaguars. He suffered an ACL tear in the second game of the 2018 season and has earned PFF pass-blocking grades in the sixties in the three seasons he's been healthy. In those three seasons, Robinson has allowed 137 pressures, resulting in 16 sacks, 25 quarterback hits, and 96 hurries. If Robinson doesn't get tagged by the Jaguars, he could be a candidate for a one-year "prove it" deal to establish higher value and enter the 2022 offseason looking to cash in when the cap is expected to rebound.

2021 Draft Options

Round 1 Options

Rashawn Slater
6-3, 306 lbs., Northwestern
Some draft analysts have Slater rated as the highest tackle prospect, but most have him second behind Oregon tackle Penei Sewell (who will likely get drafted within the first ten picks). Slater is a tough player to evaluate because, while he excelled playing right tackle for the Wildcats this past season, he is a little undersized for the position at the NFL-level. Slater also excelled at the guard position for Northwestern before moving to left tackle, so his versatility may keep him high on draft boards across the league.

Christian Darrisaw
6-5, 314 lbs., Virginia Tech
Darrisaw has started two seasons at left tackle for the Hokies. Darrisaw is an excellent athlete, with quickness and agility for the tackle position, but he doesn't seem to play with much physicality. He will have to develop more of a mean streak if he wants to take his game to the next level in the NFL. If the 49ers draft him, he may have to hang out with Colton McKivitz and learn how to play with some nastiness, which McKivitz said was one of his biggest attributes coming out of West Virginia last season.

Alijah Vera-Tucker
6-4, 315 lbs., USC
Vera-Tucker took over the left tackle position for the Trojans after Austin Jackson left for the NFL. Before the move, he played inside at left guard. That versatility is a strength for Vera-Tucker and will likely get him drafted in the first round. Vera-Tucker is an excellent athlete, like Christian Darrisaw, and he uses that athleticism to hold the edge against speed rushers. That athleticism would also allow him to get to the second level in Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone running scheme.

Later Round Options

Liam Eichenberg
6-6, 305 lbs., Notre Dame
Eichenberg took over at left tackle for the Fighting Irish after Mike McGlinchey was drafted by the 49ers in 2019. Eichenberg has been solid for Notre Dame since taking over, but not necessarily spectacular. He is not a tremendous athlete, but plays with good technique and could develop into a quality starter at the tackle position.

Teven Jenkins
6-6, 320 lbs., Oklahoma State
Jenkins has been a starter for the Cowboys since his sophomore season, so he has a ton of experience coming into the league. He has good size for the position and is part of a line that helped running back Chuba Hubbard rush for over 2,000 yards in 2019.

Dillon Radunz
6-5, 304 lbs., North Dakota State
Radunz did not allow a single sack from the left tackle position in 2019. North Dakota State only played one game in the 2020 season, so all evaluation for Radunz (and fellow teammate, quarterback Trey Lance) must come from previous seasons. Radunz was invited to, and participated in, the 2021 Senior Bowl down in Mobile, Alabama, and held his own during practices and in the game. He may be a sleeper mid-round pick to develop.

I only included replacement tackles for the sake of this exercise, but one route that the team could take if Williams leaves is to throw a bunch of money at Cory Linsley, the free-agent center from the Green Bay Packers, to solidify the interior of the line, but that would still leave a significant hole at arguably the second most important position on offense.

There are options to replace Trent Williams if he leaves, but, considering the above potential replacements, it's clear that the 49ers must do everything they can to keep him.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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